*** CHECK AGAINST DELIVERY ***
It’s a pleasure to be here.
Before I begin, I want to acknowledge the traditional custodians of the land on which we meet and pay my respects to Elders past, present and emerging.
I extend that respect to other First Nations people with us today.
In doing so, I recognise the stark disparity in health outcomes faced by First Nations Australians.
And, I’m proud to be part of a government committed to implementing the Uluru Statement from the Heart in full. Voice, Treaty Truth,
Until First Nations people have a say in the policies and the programs that impact them, we won’t close the gap.
So I encourage everyone to think very deeply about their contribution to the upcoming referendum.
I thank the Australian Rural Health Education Network the Federation of Rural Australian Medical Educators, the Lowitja Institute and the National Rural Health Alliance for convening this symposium and the many presenters sharing their expertise over the next two days.
As some of you may know, before I entered Parliament, I worked at Wyong Hospital on the NSW Central Coast.
Hand on heart, I can say I absolutely recommend living and working in a regional community.
I would encourage everyone, if they have the opportunity, to embrace living and working outside of our major cities. In no other environment will you find the diversity and complexity of work in health care.
I was recently in central Australia where I met with the team at the world leading Medical Retrieval and Consultation Centre at Alice Springs Hospital.
There I met Dan, an emergency retrieval doctor and what he told me is that he is in the job for two reasons.
Firstly, and importantly, to care for those who need it the most.
But secondly because his team is working to the absolute top of their scope of practice.
Our Government has a vision for a healthier Australia—especially for the 7 million people who call rural, regional and remote Australia home.
Central to that approach is research, investment in research and importantly translating that work into evidence-based practice.
As a nation, we need to get better at taking our work from the lab to the bedside.
In our first year of Government we have set an ambitious reform agenda for healthcare. Our next 12 months will be no different.
Many of you are intimately aware of the Medical Research Future Fund and the National Health and Medical Research Council’s Medical Research Endowment Account.
Since its inception seven years ago, the MRFF has invested more than $297 million in rural, regional and remote health research.
I understand that Masha Somi, from the Federal Health Department, will be speaking about the MRFF tomorrow so I encourage you to make time to hear about the MRFF in more detail.
We also support the National Health and Medical Research Council and its Medical Research Endowment Account.
The council addresses national health priorities, supports investigator-initiated and priority-driven research.
It also drives the translation of research into clinical practice, policies and health system change.
And importantly, from this year, the council will set targets to award equal numbers of Investigator Grants to women and men at the leadership levels of health and medical research. This is part of our commitment to address gender inequities in research funding.
The Investigator Grant program is the council’s largest funding scheme. It’s a major investment in Australia’s health and medical research workforce, awarding around $370 million in research funding annually.
However, after seven years, both funds require review.
It is no secret that our health care system is under strain. From a significant decrease in bulk billing to over stretched hospitals, our systems of care need reform.
Many of the challenges we face today are due to inaction. But, we are determined to work with you to see real change.
In this review we are seeking the views of researchers, consumers, industry and health service providers as part of reforming investments in health and medical research.
That’s why we’ve launched a national consultation.
The consultation provides an opportunity for all stakeholders to share their views on ways funding can be governed and coordinated to best support Australia’s world-class researchers to improve the health of all Australians.
Rethinking the governance of the two funds will support strategic coordination, better pathways for consumers to have their say in research that gets funded and more opportunities for Australia’s talented researchers.
As I mentioned, a key focus of our approach is the connection of communities to research.
Central to this is the expansion of the Innovative Models of Care program as announced in the Budget.
This expansion will support more multidisciplinary trials in rural and remote communities.
Funding of $24.7 million over four years will provide better health services in communities, help attract and retain rural health professionals and evaluate whether the models improve practice and lead to better health outcomes.
Concurrently, the Primary Care Pilots will test innovative models of care to reduce pressure on Emergency Departments.
The pilots will be free to patients, integrated with the broader health system and support continuity of care.
The government has provided $100 million over two years for States and Territories to co-develop and pilot improved care pathways.
And to be successful we need the right health workforce in the right place, at the right time. This is absolutely critical to any health system reform.
A number of projects are underway to help build the health workforce.
The Single Employer Model trials encourage more GP and rural generalist registrars to work in General Practice outside major cities by providing stability of employment throughout their training.
These trials allow registrars to be employed by a State or Territory health service for the duration of their training, and carry over employment benefits to general practice.
The roll out of the Integrated Care and Commissioning Project is another way we are boosting the health workforce and removing barriers or closing gaps in services.
This project aims to build economies of scale, stabilise providers and attract new entrants to the market where intervention is needed.
The project will address significant gaps in rural and remote regions and First Nations populations.
It will do this by integrating services and workforce, pooling resources and exploring the use of joint commissioning across primary health, disability, aged care and veterans care sectors.
All of these initiatives are thanks to research bridging the gaps between academics, government and the sector.
The more that we can work collaboratively, the more we will improve care.
It would be remise not to note the Rural Health Multidisciplinary Training program which is boosting educational opportunities outside our cities.
This program supports 21 universities and forms a national network of Rural Clinical Schools, University Departments of Rural Health, and Regional Training Hubs.
Together, they provide infrastructure and academic networks for teaching and training medicine, nursing, allied health and dentistry students and to support pathways to rural practice.
And, to enhance research opportunities, our University Departments of Rural Health must offer program staff the opportunity to conduct research into rural health issues and support them as they do so.
In addition, where appropriate, students will also benefit from access to rural research opportunities which will in turn benefit their community.
Before I leave you, I want to highlight the work of the Office of the National Rural Health Commissioner in advancing the Ngayubah Gadan Consensus Statement.
Ngayubah Gadan means ‘coming together’.
This Statement is a major commitment to improving health outcomes in rural and remote communities and supporting the health workforces who deliver that care.
I thank Professor Ruth Stewart, and her team, for their tireless work on this important initiative.
I also thank the 56 organisations who have endorsed the Statement.
Each endorsement brings expertise, skills and practical knowledge which will strengthen health outcomes in rural and remote communities across the nation.
As the name suggests, the Consensus Statement is a unified call from rural and remote health stakeholders to define, support, fund and enable rural and remote multidisciplinary health teams to deliver high quality care in the communities they serve.
It recognises that there are many teams, in different forms, which can provide quality care to rural and remote communities.
This consensus statement is great step forward, but I know a lot of work still needs to be done to close the gap between the city and the bush.
I would like to recognise what an opportunity the Symposium provides to bring everyone here to help shape the future of rural and remote health research.
I’m excited about the future and the work we will do together to improve the health and wellbeing of the 7 million people who call rural, regional or remote Australia home.